July 31, 2008

Thomas Geoghegan

If you don't know about Thomas Geoghegan, you're missing out. He's a labor lawyer who's been fighting extremely important fights for decades, and also a writer who takes progressive politics and performs the difficult feat of making it highly entertaining. His 1992 book Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be For Labor When It's Flat on Its Back had a big, big influence on how I see the world when I read it long ago.

But don't take my word for it. Ask:

Kathy G

David Sirota

Rick Perlstein, who explains why and how Geoghegan should be America's next Secretary of Labor.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:02 PM | Comments (3)


Dennis Perrin interviews:

Huffington Post

Green Left Infoasis

Now that you're convinced, you can buy Savage Mules.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:13 PM | Comments (2)

New Tomdispatch


When I'm 64…
Living Through the Age of Denial in America

By Tom Engelhardt

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.
-- the Beatles, "When I'm 64"

I set foot, so to speak, on this planet on July 20, 1944, not perhaps the best day of the century. It was, in fact, the day of the failed German officers' plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

My mother was a cartoonist. She was known in those years as "New York's girl caricaturist," or so she's called in a newspaper ad I still have, part of a war-bond drive in which your sizeable bond purchase was to buy her sketch of you. She had, sometime in the months before my birth, traveled by train, alone, the breadth of a mobilized but still peaceable American continent to visit Hollywood on assignment for some magazine to sketch the stars. I still have, on my wall, a photo of her in that year on the "deck" of a "pirate ship" on a Hollywood lot drawing one of those gloriously handsome matinee idols. Since I was then inside her, this is not exactly part of my memory bank. But that photo does tell me that, like him, she, too, was worth a sketch.

Certainly, it was appropriate that she drew the card announcing my birth. There I am in that announcement, barely born and already caricatured, a boy baby in nothing but diapers – except that, on my head, I'm wearing my father's dress military hat, the one I still have in the back of my closet, and, of course, I'm saluting. "A Big Hello -- From Thomas Moore Engelhardt," the card says. And thus was I officially recorded entering a world at war...

So think of this as… what? No longer, obviously, a big hello from Thomas Moore Engelhardt, nor -- quite yet -- a modest farewell, but perhaps a moderately late report from the one-man commission of me on the world of peace and war I've passed through since that first salute.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:11 AM | Comments (2)

July 30, 2008

Proof of the Existence of God

By: Bernard Chazelle

Homosexuals cause earthquakes! (h/t IOZ).

Turns out they're not the only ones. Some of you did notice that my California-bashing post was immediately followed by the Los Angeles earthquake. OK, I was aiming at the Vice-Presidential Mansion in DC and I missed. But still, behold the power of the heterosexual race, Mr Benizri !! (more on Mr Benizri later).

Now, I realize the pain I've caused. So you, California people, please accept my apologies. And you, gay people, next time you cause an earthquake, would it kill you to apologize? I find what I like to call the "post-quake gay-silence-of-denial" rather inconsiderate.

But we're not assembled here tonight to bash but to praise. To praise me. To praise me for my conclusive proof of the existence of God. I just had a theological breakthrough. You see, Knesset Member Shlomo Benizri explained his seismic theory thus:

"God says 'you shake your genitals where you are not supposed to and I will shake my world in order to wake you up'."

Let's pause for a second:

What do you shake? Your human genital.
What does God shake? The earth.
Conclusion: The earth is God's genital!

But if God has genitals then God must exist! QED


— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:19 PM | Comments (16)

Help Out Susie Madrak

Suburban Guerrilla Susie Madrak has been laid off and needs help to pay for her COBRA insurance—which she definitely needs to pay for several operations. Details are here; several ways of donating are here. It's not a ton of money, so blugland should definitely be able to make this happen.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:13 PM | Comments (1)

New Tomdispatch


War Meets Values on Campaign Trail
Will the Big Winner of 2008 Once Again Be a Conservative Culture-Wars Narrative?

By Ira Chernus

While the Iraq war has largely faded from our TV screens, some 85% of all voters still call it an important issue. Most of them want U.S. troops home from Iraq within a couple of years, many of them far sooner. They support Barack Obama's position, not John McCain's. Yet when the polls ask which candidate voters trust more on the war, McCain wins almost every time.

Maybe that's because, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press, nearly 40% of the public doesn't know McCain's position on troop withdrawal. In a June Washington Post/ABC poll, the same percentage weren't sure he had a clear position. When that poll told voters that McCain opposed a timetable for withdrawal, support for his view actually shot up dramatically. It looks like a significant chunk of the electorate cares more about the man than the issue. Newer polls suggest that McCain's arguments against a timetable may, in fact, be shifting public opinion his way.

McCain's Only Chance: Values-plus Voters

Pundits and activists who oppose the war in Iraq generally assume that the issue has to work against McCain because they treat American politics as if it were a college classroom full of rational truth-seekers. The reality is much more like a theatrical spectacle. Symbolism and the emotion it evokes -- not facts and logic -- rule the day.

In fact, the Pew Center survey found that only about a quarter of those who say they'll vote for McCain base their choice on issues at all. What appeals to them above all, his supporters say, is his "experience," a word that can conveniently mean many things to many people.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:07 PM | Comments (3)

July 29, 2008

"City of New Orleans"

By: Bernard Chazelle

Every now and then I stumble upon a band I've never heard of that reminds me how crowded with musical talent this country is. The audio is lame but you get a sense "The Hounds" (as evidently they are called) know what they're doing. The guitar solo runs through an encyclopedia of standard country licks. The telecaster (the guitarist's instrument) is great for country music: you can get particularly good "steel" sounds and chicken picking. Check out the T-bone Walker lick over the Bm pentatonic at 3:03. (The song is in D, so that's over its relative minor.) Chuck Berry was obsessed with that lick. But he didn't invent it. T-Bone did.

Anyway, I think Arlo Guthrie and Steve Goodman would be proud. A great railroad song!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:18 PM | Comments (7)

Why Don't They Use Bicycles?

By: Bernard Chazelle

China is experiencing one of the most spectacular runs of economic growth in human history. People who not long ago feared famine are now purchasing their first automobile. Kind of nice for the kids to be able to visit grandma on the weekend without having to bike 20 miles in the hot sun.

But the IMF is very upset. US economists are having hissy fits. You see, Evil China subsidizes gasoline:

Even after subsidies were partly lifted last month, a gallon of gas in China costs only $3.40, well below market prices.

I don't get the "well below" part but never mind that.

Matt Yglesias chimes in:

... the world would be a much better place if the money spent on this [subsidy] was left in people's pockets or directed at something productive.

True, visiting grandma is not terribly "productive," unlike, say, blogging at The Atlantic.

The Christian Science Monitor tells us

In China, the government caps gas prices [...] The result? Consumption keeps rising, boosting global prices. The rest of the world -- the part now racing to conserve -- is paying more than it should. Unfair? Yes ...

Two facts:

1. Measured in purchasing power, the price of gas in china is actually 30 dollars a gallon.

2. California (pop: 37 million) consumes more gas than all of China (pop: 1.3 billion)!

But, when in doubt, blame the Chinese!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 01:33 PM | Comments (13)

July 28, 2008

Evidence For My Theory

Every society on earth seems to divide into a left wing and a right wing. Moreover, each left wing claims to embody the same values as other left wings, and each right wing claims to embody the same values as other right wings. Why?

Obviously this must somehow grow out of human nature. My theory is this occurs not because every person is either left-wing or right-wing, but because every person, no matter what ideology they profess, has an internal left-wing and right-wing. God knows it's been my experience that I have an internal right-wing and left-wing—including a part that wants to stay forever the same, a part of me that wants change, a part that goes back to rewrite history to conform to the Official Narrative, and a part that is a troublemaking investigative reporter, digging into things the rest of me would just as soon keep quiet.

Then this mixture of motives, values, etc. within each person is replicated on a large scale, so that every society operates like one big person. (And conversely, every person operates like a tiny society.) No society can ever be said to "be" left-wing or right-wing, any more than an individual can. It is merely the case that certain tendencies within a society (or person) predominate over others at certain times.

Here's some interesting evidence for this, from World War II.

First, this is from one of the pamphlets of the White Rose, the German students who resisted Nazi rule in Munich and were executed in 1943:

We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

So in this case, individuals were acting as society's conscience, as though they were part of one big social superorganism.

Second, this is Dario Gabbai, an Auschwitz Sonderkommando, speaking in the BBC documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State about how he managed to do his job:

After a while, you don't know nothing. Nothing bothers you. That's why your conscience, you know, gets inside of you, and stays there until today. Somebody else is inside of me that tells me from time to time, you get awake, what happened, why we did such a thing?

So in this case, part of an individual is acting as though it were a separate person.

As I always say, you can learn a lot about politics and human psychology from Nazi Germany.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:57 PM | Comments (20)

Tom Engelhardt Interview + New TomDispatch

Here's the second part of the the Real News' interview with Tom Engelhardt. Donate to the Real News here.


The Military-Industrial Complex
It's Much Later Than You Think
By Chalmers Johnson

Most Americans have a rough idea what the term "military-industrial complex" means when they come across it in a newspaper or hear a politician mention it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced the idea to the public in his farewell address of January 17, 1961. "Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime," he said, "or indeed by the fighting men of World War II and Korea… We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions… We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications… We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

Although Eisenhower's reference to the military-industrial complex is, by now, well-known, his warning against its "unwarranted influence" has, I believe, largely been ignored. Since 1961, there has been too little serious study of, or discussion of, the origins of the military-industrial complex, how it has changed over time, how governmental secrecy has hidden it from oversight by members of Congress or attentive citizens, and how it degrades our Constitutional structure of checks and balances.

From its origins in the early 1940s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was building up his "arsenal of democracy," down to the present moment, public opinion has usually assumed that it involved more or less equitable relations -- often termed a "partnership" -- between the high command and civilian overlords of the United States military and privately-owned, for-profit manufacturing and service enterprises. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that, from the time they first emerged, these relations were never equitable.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)

July 27, 2008


By: Bernard Chazelle

Hip-hop stinks. It's nothing but a violent, vulgar, misogynistic, materialistic noise machine.

I love it.

Measured by audience size among blacks and whites, rap is 70% white. This proves two things: (A) rap is almost 3 times more popular among blacks than whites; (B) most rap money is white. So it should come as no surprise that Eminem would bubble up to the top the way Elvis and Benny Goodman did in earlier times, both of them brilliant rip-off artists.

At least, Goodman and Eminem had the good sense to enlist the help of two musical geniuses, Charlie Christian and Dr Dre. (Elvis had a fine guitarist.) OK, I'll admit I'm no great fan of Eminem, but no doubt about it: the guy can rap. This is a good song and a good performance: "Stan," with a little help from Eminem's new friend, Sir Elton.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:07 PM | Comments (25)

July 26, 2008

Six Years in Prison for Shooting his Toro Lawn Mower?

By: Bernard Chazelle

A 56-year-old man from the Midwestern US state of Wisconsin has been arrested after shooting his lawn mower in his garden because it would not start... He could face a fine of up to $11,000 and a maximum prison sentence of six-and-a-half years if convicted.

KEITH: Hey Billy, how did you get 6 years?

BILLY: I shot Jimmy. Wouldn't pay up.

KEITH: [sigh]... damn drug dealers!

BILLY: Hey Keith, how did you get 6 years?

KEITH: I shot my Lawn-Boy Insight Series 21-Inch 6.5 HP Gas Powered Self-Propelled Mulching Mower. Wouldn't start up.

BILLY: [sigh]... damn lawn mowers!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:23 PM | Comments (20)

July 25, 2008

Tempus Fugit

By: Robert ToTeras

Maybe I'm more nostalgic than I thought.

For a good portion of the Clinton Administration, I always knew what I would be doing every Sunday night.

After a hideous week of working as a law firm temp... After those desperate Friday and Saturday nights of playing guitar for inattentive New York bar and coffeehouse audiences... Sunday evenings at my friend Emily's apartment provided me with a few hours of amnesty from my self-inflicted chaos.

At 7 pm, I'd walk through the door and she'd hand me the takeout menus. After placing our order, we'd sit and talk about the week, work, people we knew, books we were reading, who we were dating and why we shouldn't be dating them.

Soon the food would arrive, and the conversation would turn to last week’s episode (and the main reason we kept meeting like this in the first place):

"You know, that part at the end? It didn't really make sense did it?"


"Wasn't it a great moment when Mulder taught Scully how to swing a baseball bat?"

There was always something so wonderfully smart, funny, touching and compelling about the X-Files. Because of these wonderful qualities, it was always easy to forgive the usually confusing last few minutes of every episode. Much like the characters on the show, the audience also seemed to be on a never-ending quest for some answers. Somehow this frustration never deterred our return. Every week brought with it a renewed hope that somehow the last five minutes would live up to the first 55. That rarely happened, but it was always such a wonderful ride anyway. Monday morning, all you remembered was the roller coaster and not the dizziness.

Since the X-Files ended, there have been more artful television shows (with higher production values), but in my opinion, none so damn entertaining.

At 10 pm Emily and I would clean the dishes and talk in the kitchen, simultaneously admiring and admonishing the show:

"Too much conspiracy stuff, I just want them to get back to solving strange cases."


"Wow, Scully's looking really hot lately." (Yikes! That's me talking.)

Afterwards, I'd make the long trek from east 23rd street back to the upper west side. Later, when I moved to Philadelphia to care for a sick relative, I'd still drive 2 hours to New York on Sunday to visit my friend and watch the show. That's probably a long way to go to watch a TV show, but I never thought anything of it at the time.

My weekly X-files ritual brought me a lot of happiness at time when I had no idea what I was doing with my life, or who I was supposed to be. That weekly ritual helped turn a pretty good friend into a lifelong friend. It also turned me into a great admirer of composer Mark Snow. Mark Snow had this amazing ability to turn in an outstanding (wall to wall) score for that show week after week. This admiration for Mark's work had a direct bearing on my decision to pursue a career as a film composer.

Sometimes there is something so astonishingly fulfilling about good television. Your real life conditions have to be so perfectly chaotic that you are willing to give yourself over to the simple and satisfying joy of a great idea, funneled into a fairly cheaply realized narrative, spiced with some wonderfully poignant moments along the way. For me, these things all came together and actually had a positive effect on my REAL life.

Recently I read an interview with actress Gillian Anderson where she mentioned that someone had sent her a link to the fan video below. She said watching it had reminded her of all the things she loved about the show but hadn't thought about in a long time. I have to admit, seeing it (against the backdrop of Thomas Newman's score from American Beauty) has also confirmed what I guess I already knew...

I'm WAY more nostalgic than I thought.

—Robert ToTeras

Posted at 07:40 PM | Comments (16)

Sports, Tails, and Other Fun Ways to Waste your time

By: Bernard Chazelle

Breaking News: 0.1% of Americans jaywalk backwards. Only half of them get to survive the experience.

True or false, such a statement is meaningless because 0.1% of Americans will do anything. That's the magic of distribution tails. No rule (like jaywalking safely) applies entirely to a large population. So, take an outlandish idea that everyone rejects, like peace & love, and, sure enough, you'll find that a microscopic segment of the population believes in it. Tails are amazing.

The existence of tails is itself a rule about large populations; therefore, to be consistent, the rule that there's no watertight rule must leak somewhere.

Here is where it does. The Olympics are upon us and you can bet your mortgage that India will once again be overtaken in the medal count by those big rich countries named Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. India got only one medal (silver) at the 2004 Olympics, in "double trap shooting" (whatever that is), and that was a good year. Thailand got 8 times as many.

Few things in life are sillier than the dogged pursuit of Olympic gold in sports of breathtaking stupidity (ribbon gym anyone? Why not "googling" while we're at it? Now that requires athleticism!) So, in fact, India's abysmal Olympic performance strikes me as a refreshing sign of sanity.

But I still don't understand how they pull it off. I know it's hard to get medals. But it seems even harder not to get any when there are one billion of you. Do you get athletes extra cash for running slow? Or for shooting 3-pointers into their own baskets? Do you lobby the IOC to exclude sports in which you excel (like cricket) and include those with zero mass appeal at home (like synchronized swimming). I know Tom Friedman would recommend adding taxi driving as an Olympic sport, but I am not sure about his wisdom any more.

A new study tries to explain this baffling phenomenon. It ends on a note of delirious optimism:

It's entirely possible to win more medals.


— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:29 PM | Comments (8)

July 24, 2008

If Self-Righteousness Could Kill

By:Bernard Chazelle

Newsweek sportswriter Mark Starr implores Bush not to pardon Marion Jones, who is serving a 6-month jail sentence for lying to a grand jury about drug use.

Keep Marion Jones in Prison.

The president should not commute the disgraced Olympian's sentence. Her precipitous fall sends a chilling -- and essential -- message to our athletes... Please [President Bush], do not grant Jones early release.

Like jazz critics, but unlike, say, political journalists, sportswriters write about people they tend to admire greatly. In fact, they're uniquely qualified to appreciate why the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer belong to a superior breed of people. My grandmother would have dismissed that as utter nonsense. Obviously her local baker was the superior human being, because his bread truly was out of this world -- and she didn't care much about sports. But sportswriters do. And they realize better than anyone that the man with the magic swing is Tiger Woods, and they are not.

Partly because of this admiration, in the fevered minds of journalists, sports becomes the stage for an endless morality play. Mark Starr talks about our athletes. (Would he talk about our short-order cooks?) Marion Jones has been disgraced. She lost all her medals. She is deeply in debt. And she is in jail. But that's not enough. The goddess must bear the full price of her dishonor.

Drugs or no drugs, she is still endowed with natural skills that Starr will never have. She was once the world's best female runner. Starr will always be a journeyman. Children once looked up to Jones, not to Starr. And he is fully aware of that. But Starr, you see, is only concerned about our children.

Of Marion Jones he tells us what a considerate, friendly, kind person she is.

I genuinely liked this lady.

I hate to think what he'd recommend if he didn't like her.

I am not here to praise the wonders of perjury. Marion Jones seems to have broken some sort of law and she should pay a price. But why prison? Why not community service? I believe that prison should be reserved only for violent offenders. But locking people up has a brutal edge that seems to tickle the petty vindictiveness of a Mark Starr. And let's not even bring up the hypocrisy of drug use in sports, from Lance Armstrong to virtually all of major-league baseball. But lessons must be taught, and what a better way to do that than to lock up a destitute black female athlete.

Mr Starr is doing it for our children.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:19 PM | Comments (34)

Savage Mules Review

I wish I could find a harsh review of Dennis Perrin's new book Savage Mules so I could refer to it as "Mules, Savaged." I would seem clever!

But here's an excellent review in Crooked Timber, followed by a ton of good comments. And it's back on the Amazon political bestseller list, currently at #12.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:36 PM | Comments (5)

July 23, 2008

Superpower With a Heart

By: Bernard Chazelle

Those of you who've spent the last 30 years secluded in a Cistercian monastery may have missed this. Two guys buy a lion cub at Harrods (I didn't know they sold those), raise it for a year as a pet, and then release it in the jungle when it's too big. A year later, they meet again.

If you don't speak lionese, perhaps you're wondering what the lion said to his wife: "No, honey, this is not dessert."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:29 PM | Comments (17)

First Ever Open Thread!

I have my hands full with being alive, plus a secret project. (Hint: you'd need to raise $_0,000 billion to build a plasma cannon to totally ____terate the sun.)

So things will be a little quiet here on my end for a while. But if you have something to say, I pledge to provide a thoughtful response to every comment.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:57 AM | Comments (33)

New Tomdispatch

I love love love clean water. I love drinking it, I love swimming in it, and I love filling balloons with it to throw at people who have disrespected me.

Life without abundant clean water is a nightmare. So it would be nice if we acted like it were important.

Perhaps you have your own thoughts about water you'd like to share.


Our National Water Policy…
Oh, Wait, We Don't Have One

By Elizabeth de la Vega

"Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don't have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn't they?" -- Homer Simpson

On June 24, 2008, Louie and I curled up on the couch to watch seven of the nation's foremost water resources experts testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

This was a new experience for us. For my part, the issue to be addressed -- "Comprehensive Watershed Management Planning" -- was certainly a change of pace from the subjects I ordinarily follow in Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings. I wasn't even entirely sure what a "watershed" was. I knew that, in a metaphorical sense, the word referred to a turning point, but I was a bit fuzzy about its meaning in the world of hydrology. (It's the term used to describe "all land and water areas that drain toward a river or lake.")

What was strange from Louie's point of view was not the topic of the day, but that we were stuck in the house. Usually at that hour, we'd be working in the backyard, where he can better leverage his skill set, which includes chasing squirrels, digging up tomato plants, eating wicker patio chairs, etc. On this particular afternoon, however, the typically cornflower-blue San Jose sky was the color of wet cement, and thick soot was charging down from the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. Sitting outside would have been about as pleasant as relaxing in a large ashtray.

It would have been difficult, on such a day, not to think about water.

The rest.

Posted at 09:12 AM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2008

LOOKING BACK: Rumsfeld Privately Criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki As Inferior To Mass Murderers

There's no question Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has recently been giving the White House and John McCain heartburn. On Saturday in an interview with Der Spiegel he essentially endorsed Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Then did it again today, right after speaking with Obama in Baghdad:

After talks with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki reaffirmed that Iraq wants U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2010, a few months later than Obama had proposed.

So it's worth looking back at the Bush administration's private views of Maliki, as stated by Donald Rumsfeld back in 2006.

For the recent New York Time story on the close government ties of TV military analysts, the paper pried loose tons of internal Pentagon records never meant to see the light of day. Buried in the pile was a recording of Rumsfeld having lunch with many of the Pentagon's analysts in December, 2006 just before he was replaced by Robert Gates. (The large .wav file is available here.)

One section of the recording goes like this:

UNIDENTIFIED ANALYST #1: This is really off the record, but do you think that this government can survive—the unity government—or they're eventually gonna have to go to an authoritarian one like came out of [South] Korea, Syngman Rhee, was really an authoritarian leader. The eleven years I was supporting commander in Korea, the president was an Army major general in civilian clothes and they had their highest growth rates and did the '88 Olympics and they finally handed it over. The real question is, and we all hope the unity government [inaudible], but it's very difficult.

RUMSFELD: It is very difficult. You look at it and there isn't anyone smart enough to know the answer to your question.

UNIDENTIFIED ANALYST #1: I think the answer's they can't, but how you do get that right person?

RUMSFELD: I mean, Allawi had steel up his backside.


RUMSFELD: And he wasn't well liked and wasn't perfect. He'd leave the country for long periods and stuff. He was not as attentive as he needed to be, it strikes me. But good lord, in terms of dealing with him, he was terrific. He could make a decision and he would kick some fanny to get it implemented, and you felt good about it. The fellow who proceeded Maliki [Ibrahim al-Jaafari] was like a windsock. You know, he was the last guy he talked to, and we're still off the record.

Q: We heard that windsock terminology over there from somebody else.

RUMSFELD: Oh man, he was something. Yes, he's a hell of a—a very pleasant guy, but good grief, the last guy he talked to. This fella [Maliki] is better than the one before, but he's not Syngman Rhee.

For anyone familiar with Ayad Allawi and Syngman Rhee, the casual admiration Rumsfeld expresses for them is like a punch in the stomach. The hands of both Allawi and Rhee are covered with the blood of their countrymen.

Allawi was a member of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party during the sixties and seventies. Seymour Hersh quotes an American intelligence official as saying "Allawi helped Saddam get to power"; Hersh also reports that a high level Middle East diplomat told him that Allawi was part of a Baathist Party hit squad that murdered dissenters in Europe. (After a falling out with Saddam in the mid-seventies, Allawi lived in England and ended up channeling false information about Iraq's purported WMD and Al-Qaeda ties to the media.)

But that may merely have been the prelude. The Bush administration was able to briefly install Allawi as Iraq's Prime Minster in 2004. Soon afterward, Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker provided convincing evidence that, just before taking office, Allawi had personally shot seven Iraqi prisoners.

Yet as bad as Allawi was, the South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee was far worse. According to recent reporting by AP, Rhee, who took power in 1948, supervised the slaughter of over 100,000 South Koreans in the space of a few weeks.

Indeed, Allawi and Rhee seem almost indistinguishable from Saddam Hussein. But then, Rumsfeld never had any real problems with him either.

BONUS: Allawi's successor and Maliki's predecessor as prime minster was Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Jaafari is the one whom Rumsfeld refers to as a "windsock." In what must have come as quite a surprise to the Bush administration, Jaafari was a fervent admirer of Noam Chomsky.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:17 PM | Comments (10)

Sign Of The Times

I came home late last night to my apartment in an upscale neighborhood, and stumbled on a young blond woman sleeping in the vestibule.

"And now we're passing over the Great Depression, which means everyone gets to live the way you've been living"—The Colored Museum

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:00 PM | Comments (3)

The Real News: "Iraq Events Moving Out Of US Control"

This is part 1 of 5 on the subject. Clearly there's a lot to say.

Donate to the Real News here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:52 PM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Having the "Best Military" Is Not Always a Good Thing
Reclaiming Our Citizen-Soldier Heritage

By William J. Astore

When did American troops become "warfighters" -- members of "Generation Kill" -- instead of citizen-soldiers? And when did we become so proud of declaring our military to be "the world's best"? These are neither frivolous nor rhetorical questions. Open up any national defense publication today and you can't miss the ads from defense contractors, all eagerly touting the ways they "serve" America's "warfighters." Listen to the politicians, and you'll hear the obligatory incantation about our military being "the world's best."

All this is, by now, so often repeated -- so eagerly accepted -- that few of us seem to recall how against the American grain it really is. If anything -- and I saw this in studying German military history -- it's far more in keeping with the bellicose traditions and bumptious rhetoric of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II than of an American republic that began its march to independence with patriotic Minutemen in revolt against King George.

So consider this a modest proposal from a retired citizen-airman: A small but meaningful act against the creeping militarism of the Bush years would be to collectively repudiate our "world's best warfighter" rhetoric and re-embrace instead a tradition of reluctant but resolute citizen-soldiers.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:49 PM | Comments (26)

July 19, 2008

What's Going To Happen?

You've probably already seen this:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports US presidential candidate Barack Obama's plan to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. When asked in and interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."

I have no idea what's going to happen now. Generally speaking, empires never peacefully retreat from valuable possessions. That goes double for a situation like this, since the idea of a Shiite Iran and a friendly Shiite Iraq controlling much of the world's oil—right next to the Shia sections of Saudi Arabia, which have the rest of it—is the greatest nightmare imaginable for the US foreign policy elite. So I'd always assumed Barack Obama would be our next president and at the end of his two terms we'd still have 100,000 troops occupying giant military bases in Iraq. Moreover, this would all be done at the request of the Iraqi government.

On the other hand, perhaps the world is changing—either slightly or a lot. Certainly in the past we would already have overthrown Maliki and installed a more compliant "democracy." But maybe the combination of the internet, satellite TV and IEDs has made that kind of imperialism more difficult, and when you add America's financial exhaustion it's close to impossible.

I don't know. I still wouldn't bet against us being in Iraq eight years from now, or eighteen years from now. But things are not proceeding according to my expectations.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:14 PM | Comments (15)

July 17, 2008

More On Health Care For America Now

Not everyone thinks the new organization Health Care for America NOW is what we need. Here are some other views:

• David Himmelstein, MD: "A Policy Response to Health Care for America Now"

• Rose Ann DeMoro: "Why is Health Care for America Now giving up on real reform?"

• Jenny Brown: "Health Care for America Now: Which Side Are They On?"

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 10:54 AM | Comments (7)

Tom Engelhardt Interview + New TomDispatch

Here's Tom Engelhardt being interviewed by the Real News. (Donate to the Real News here.)

And here's the latest piece from TomDispatch:

The Pentagon and the Hunt for Black Gold
The Oil Deal Nobody Wants to Talk About

by Nick Turse

For years, "oil" and "Iraq" couldn't make it into the same sentence in mainstream coverage of the invasion and occupation of that country. Recently, that's begun to change, but "oil" and "the Pentagon" still seldom make the news together.

Last year, for instance, according to Department of Defense (DoD) documents, the Pentagon paid more than $70 million to Hunt Refining, an oil company whose corporate affiliate, Hunt Oil, undermined U.S. policy in Iraq. Not that anyone would know it. While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon's hunt for oil remains a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon guzzles fuel, it's a chronic blind spot in media energy coverage.

Let's consider the Hunt Oil story in a little more detail, since it offers a striking example of the larger problem. On July 3, 2008, according to the New York Times, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that Hunt Oil had pursued "an oil deal with the regional Kurdistan government that ran counter to American policy and undercut Iraq's central government." Despite its officially stated policy of warning companies like Hunt Oil "that they incur risks in signing contracts until Iraq passes an oil law," the State Department in some cases actually encouraged a deal between the "Texas oil company with close ties to President Bush" and Kurdistan that "undercut" Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad.

Asked if the White House was aware of Hunt Oil's negotiations with Kurdistan's largely autonomous regional government, President Bush's press secretary Dana Perino replied, "I don't know of anybody who was aware of it."

It turns out that wasn't exactly the truth of the matter....

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:48 AM | Comments (3)

July 16, 2008

Media Suck Up-ery: A Retrospective

Some people are upset by this example of appalling booklicking by Ron Fournier—then an AP reporter, now head of AP's Washington bureau—discovered in the bowels of a new government report:

Karl Rove exchanged e-mails about Pat Tillman with Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line "H-E-R-O." In response to Mr. Fournier's e-mail, Mr. Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this," to which Mr. Fournier replied, "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."

But while that's bad, I'd bet you ONE TRILLION DOLLARS that if you could open up the archives of the Bush administration, you'd find a thousand examples that are worse. Fournier is just the tip of a giant, fetid iceberg. These people do nothing all day long but deliver tonguebaths to the boots of whoever's powerful that day.

For instance, here's Ted Koppel talking by phone to Henry Kissinger in 1976:

KOPPEL: You looked sensational [on TV]. Tanned and well rested... How was your vacation?

KISSINGER: Very pleasant. We missed you. We expect you to show up.

KOPPEL: Normally I don't let you go without me... How is your schedule for the next couple of weeks because we wanted to have you and Nancy over some evening?... In fact, I am not sure we would have anybody else over. Just a quiet evening.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:24 PM | Comments (10)

Hip Hop Is Dead

By: Bernard Chazelle

It's tough to start one's music career with an unsurpassable masterpiece, but that's what Nas did with Illmatic. While not reaching the amazing lyrical heights of that album, Hip Hop is Dead is a fine effort by Nas's exacting standards. In it, Nas vents his despair at the state of rap today. Dunno why but the mix of despair and irony reminded me of this blog.

The bigger the cap, the bigger the peelin', Come through, something ill, missin' the ceilin'. What influenced my raps? Stick ups and killings, Kidnappings, project buildings, drug dealings. Criticize that, why is that? Cuz Nas rap is compared to legitimized crap, Cuz we love to talk on nasty chickens. Most intellectuals will only half listen.

It's not the new "southern" rap he is dissing. It's the corporate media.
(Don't miss the fist jab in the video!)

Me, I'm off to enemy territory (Canada) for a few days.

Embedding was disabled by YouTube, so click here.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:17 PM | Comments (4)

It's All About Race

By: Bernard Chazelle

One of the many flaws of the New Yorker cover is that it misses the point entirely. The right-wing smears that it highlights do not, in fact, question whether Obama is Muslim, whether he hates the American flag, whether he is unpatriotic, or whether his wife is angry or ungrateful. These are all codewords. Here's a translation:

Obama is a Muslim? Yes, Obama is black!

Obama is unpatriotic? Yes, Obama is black!

Angry, uppity wife? Yes, Obama is black!

And that terrorist fist jab? Yes, Obama is black!

Anti-Semites have used this device for centuries: They are unpatriotic? Yes, they are Jews!

You can't say "I don't want a black man in the Oval Office," so you say "I don't want a terrorist in the Oval Office." And the geniuses at the New Yorker fall for it and, with a smug smile on their face, tell you: "OMG, can you believe there are kooks out there who think that Obama is a terrorist?" Thank you, New Yorker! Thanks to you, now I understand the meaning of this poll.

Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, compared with 34 percent of whites.

Now I understand what they mean by "post-racial." Our world is post-racial every bit as much as a blind man's world is post-visual.

Hey, did you know that some Germans in the 30s believed that Jews drank the blood of Christian children? Yes, yes, I swear that's true! Thank God "Der Berliner" had a hilarious cover that debunked that nonsense. Phew... I hate to think what might have happened to the Jews otherwise.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:09 PM | Comments (27)

July 15, 2008

29 Years Successfully Wasted

Jimmy Carter delivered his so-called "malaise" speech 29 years ago today. What we wouldn't give today to have done what he advocated (except perhaps for the expanded use of coal):

CARTER: Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- never...

Point two: To ensure that we meet these targets, I will use my presidential authority to set import quotas...

Point three: To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel...

I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.

These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay...

Point four: I'm asking Congress to mandate, to require as a matter of law, that our nation's utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source...

Point five: To make absolutely certain that nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals, I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board...

Point six: I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every state, county, and city and every average American in our energy battle. This effort will permit you to build conservation into your homes and your lives at a cost you can afford.

To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems...

Our nation must be fair to the poorest among us, so we will increase aid to needy Americans to cope with rising energy prices. We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation's strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives...

I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our nation's problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act. We can manage the short-term shortages more effectively and we will, but there are no short-term solutions to our long-range problems. There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice.

Thanks, America's crazy right wing. We couldn't have ignored our most important problems for three decades and thereby made them much worse without you.

(The speech can be watched here.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:30 PM | Comments (19)

Judging A Book By Its Cover

By: Michael Gerber

I'm taking a break from writing (blogging in particular) for the summer and maybe longer. But there is a controversy afoot, a tiny little tornado in a teacup that, like the ringing of Pavlov's bell, has wrung an inevitable response from me. I'm just as God made me, folks, a simple satirist and ex-magazine person and lover of GOOD magazines, and so must fling out my two cents, asked for or not.

Don't let the glossy intellectualized idiom confuse you: The New Yorker cover of Barack and Michelle Obama is bad satire--blurry in intent, flawed in execution, and...well, the kind of clunking, ill-formed thing that rigid hierarchies of smart-but-unfunny people create when they're determined to crack wise. Illustrator Barry Blitt has depicted the putative First Couple in the Oval Office, she dressed as Angela Davis with 'fro and bandolier, he as an turbaned Islamofascist. There's even a portrait of Osama bin Laden over a roaring fire, stoked by an American flag. The pair share a fist-bump in sly solidarity.

Blitt's objective was, I can only assume, to lampoon June's FOX News fantods over "terrorist fist-jabbing," as well as the right-wing's endless whispery smears of the Obamas as somehow unamerican. There's nothing wrong with this goal--the hysteria and smears ARE ridiculous, and legit targets--but there's nothing particularly right with it, either.

First off, it's old news. Six weeks is an eternity for political humor, and there's nothing lamer than an untimely attempt at timely satire. This would have been a fine cover (nothing extraordinary, but fine) if it had appeared within a week or two of FOX's fluttering (June 7, according to YouTube). Running it now makes readers go "Huh?...Oh, I remember that." It is this moment of confusion, followed by vague recollection--a timely joke delivered in a non-timely fashion--that is causing the negative reaction.

Second, the style doesn't match the satirical intent. The intent is to underscore the absurdity of Obamas-as-fifth-column, to show it to be a fever-dream born of rhetoric and paranoia. You can do this either by creating a grotesque fantasy--amping it one way--or going in the other direction, and anchoring it in reality. Blitt's slight, watery, wan style is exactly the wrong treatment. Maybe Blitt came to them with the idea; fair enough, pair him with somebody who can use Photoshop, have the pair of them create a seamless photocollage that takes the right-wing fantasy to its FARTHEST POINT. Make it graphic, make it punchy. Photorealistic or Felliniesque, it doesn't matter, but the finished product should insist upon the opinion you want the reader to take away: "this is absurd."

Whenever The New Yorker does a reasonably decent cover, the ancient Steinberg cover of Manhattan as the center of the world is referenced; but this comparison shows just why Blitt's cover is so structurally weak. To begin with, the Steinberg cover fit the venue; its satirical point was that many Manhattan-dwellers believe that their island is the center of the world. The presence of that idea on the cover of The New Yorker was completely appropriate, and allowed the reader to absorb that idea without having to decode its relationship to the magazine "behind" it.

The viewpoint of Blitt's cover is one diametrically opposed to the one held by your average New Yorker reader; therefore, it's understandable for readers to see it and think, "Why is The New Yorker saying that the Obamas are militants/Islamofascists?...They would never do that...Oh, I get it." Ideas like this--ones that require a second of mental processing--these are weak vehicles for satire, especially in our hyper-visual, hyper-distracted, information-dense era, when none of us have time to process anything very deeply, given the volume of crud that comes at us every minute of every day.

Furthermore, there was a fitness of idea and style in the Steinberg cover that does not exist here. Steinberg's style was cartoonish, idiosyncratic, exaggerated to the point of absurdity--all completely of a piece with the "NYC as center of world" idea he was trying to put across. Like Steinberg, Blitt's style is personal, artistic--but in this case, it confuses the reader; is this Blitt's fantasy, since it comes from his pen? If we remember the old news story, AND know the political stance of TNY, we realize, no, it's not--it's commentary. The idea Steinberg was putting across was a small, amusing one; a harmless affectation held by New Yorkers everywhere, grist for a witty, stylish cartoon. The whisper campaign against the Obamas is not such light-hearted material, and that the editors could not make this distinction shows exactly why they should be kept far away from the funny cabinet. It could potentially make for a great cover, and maybe even a great cartoon cover, but this ain't it. It ain't anywhere close.

Jokes don't get over when you ask the reader to spend too much time "decoding." This is where idea and execution must work together, sharpening and enhancing each other. Blitt's cover is blurry in all three facets, intent, context, or execution. Intent: "Is this pro-Obama or con-? It seems con-, but because I know that The New Yorker is liberal, I guess it's pro-..." Properly sharpened satire, not to mention top-notch magazine covers, do not rely on the reader's prior knowledge of the magazine. They answer this question automatically, unequivocally, viscerally. Laugh or don't, but we WILL kill this dog. Context: Why now? Timely satire must be timely; this cover is the comeback you imagine six weeks later. Yes, I know the mechanics of producing a magazine require a certain time-lag--so don't do timely satire. Execution: The style employed does nothing to aid or refine the satirical point, and unlike Steinberg's style--or the photorealism of the famous NatLamp cover--actually blunts its impact...Which is, of course, completely intentional on the part of The New Yorker.

See, the problem isn't that the cover is blah. The problem is that the cultural turf staked out by TNY means that it cannot produce satire, and lacks either the good grace or self-awareness to abstain. Good satire is almost by definition excessive, and that runs counter to the "timeless intellectual arbiter" brand TNY strives so mightily to maintain (for commercial reasons). The reason that Tina Brown fizzled is because you cannot simultaneously pull stunts in the belief that all publicity is good publicity, while at the same time relentlessly harkening back to the Good Old Days when men wore suits and Shawn despised adverbs (or was it Ross?). One or the other stance always feels false. When Roseanne guest-edits, it feels like they're slumming; when they print this cover, it feels like they're giving authority to ideas that should be ignored. They can't win, so they shouldn't play.

But strange as it may seem the people at The New Yorker envy the people at The Daily Show; they envy them their relevancy, and their reach, and their hipness. Just like the people at The New Yorker in 1975 envied those things about SNL. The difference is, TNY in 1975 knew what it was, and what it was for, and today's New Yorker does not. That's why this cover doesn't work, and also why the pundits are rallying 'round to say that it does, because if they admit that it's just a ham-handed attempt at what things like The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and (yes, even) South Park do regularly--and effortlessly--they'll be forced to see just how many steps behind they really are.

So laugh, or don't, but know that it isn't a big deal--magazines don't matter in America, and haven't for 30 years--and we wouldn't even be discussing it were it not for the media's preference towards stories about itself. But given the poisonousness of the Obama-as-traitor meme--and the skill and persistence with which the right-wing smears Democrats--I personally wouldn't have run it. Unless, of course, it was really fucking funny.

It isn't. Moving on...

When Kate read this post, she suggested that it either be done in a pure tabloid style (to which I replied, you could do it as a sideways spread inside the mag), or if you had to stick with TNY's house style, have McCain in a grocery store checkout line, reading a Weekly World News-type thing that reprinted all the lurid Obama-smearing. (I particularly liked that idea.) Kate also said she'd cancel her subscription, but felt that people who did that over objectionable covers "are asshats."

—Michael Gerber

Posted at 01:30 AM | Comments (28)

July 14, 2008

"WHO is the KING of the RIGHTEOUS RIFF?"

By: Bernard Chazelle

For his movie "Kansas City," Robert Altman assembled some of the biggest names in jazz. This outtake features a Lester Young standard, Tickletoe.

The narrator, Harry Belafonte, refers to "cutting contests." People often think of early jazz players as slackers noodling around blues scales for a living. In fact, their environment was fiercely competitive. Players would compete one-on-one and the loser would be booed off-stage. (Few suffered more from this combative culture than Charlie Parker himself, who was neither a precocious nor a naturally gifted player, but that's a story for another day). The two kings of "the righteous riff" were Lester Young (Prez) and Coleman Hawkins (Bean). In this scene, Joshua Redman plays the part of Prez.

The marvelous pianist Geri Allen opens with the main walking bass line, which she quickly hands over to the formidable Christian McBride, probably the best young bass player today. This sort of "riff-passing" is common in jazz. It's like passing the baton in a relay race: you do it only when the next runner is already in full motion. Or think of a parent running alongside their child on a bicycle to give it a running start. Or think of a food taster: "Hey, I just need to make sure this chorus is not going to poison anyone, so let me take the first bite."

Don Byron and James Carter play the theme chorus, with a Carter in fine form displaying his trademark exuberance, which draws a smile from McBride. Then Joshua Redman takes the first break. Lester Young's 1940 solo (in Count Basie's band) is a jazz classic that only a fool would try to play note for note. Joshua Redman is no fool (in fact, he and James Carter are among the greatest jazz talents today) and he wisely charts his own path. (I have another take by him of that same break, and it is distinctively more modern).

Geri Allen's breaks couldn't be more different from Count Basie's 1940 recording. Allen plays like a full-fledged pianist. Count Basie, on the other hand, used the piano as a percussive instrument. He was a drummer at heart, who only switched to piano because Sonny Greer (an Ellington drummer) cast too wide a shadow. Don't get me wrong: Count Basie was a keyboard master. I have recordings by him on the organ (Fats Waller taught him: No, I am not making that up!)

The other band members are Mark Whitfield on guitar and Victor Lewis on drums. This is a dream team of jazz. I've had the good fortune to hear most of these musicians in concert and meet a few of them in person: they're even more amazing live.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:02 PM | Comments (3)

The New Yorker Cover

Across the progressive world, the dispute rages: is the Obama cover of this week's New Yorker funny?

Whatever your previous views on the subject, we now have definitive proof that the answer is no:

The New Yorker cover this week is exceedingly funny.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:49 PM | Comments (21)

July 13, 2008

New Tomdispatch


The Wedding Crashers
A Short Till-Death-Do-Us-Part History of Bush's Wars

By Tom Engelhardt

It was a tribal affair. Against a picture-perfect sunset, before a beige-colored cross and an altar made of the very Texas limestone that was also used to build her family's "ranch," veil-less in an Oscar de la Renta gown, the 26 year-old bride said her vows. More than 200 members of her extended family and friends were on hand, as well as the 14 women in her "house party," who were dressed "in seven different styles of knee-length dresses in seven different colors that match[ed] the palette of… wildflowers -- blues, greens, lavenders and pinky reds." Afterwards, in a white tent set in a grove of trees and illuminated by strings of lights, the father of the bride, George W. Bush, danced with his daughter to the strains of "You Are So Beautiful." The media was kept at arm's length and the vows were private, but undoubtedly they included the phrase "till death do us part."

That was early May of this year. Less than two months later, halfway across the world, another tribal affair was underway. The age of the bride involved is unknown to us, as is her name. No reporters were clamoring to get to her section of the mountainous backcountry of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. We know almost nothing about her circumstances, except that she was on her way to a nearby village, evidently early in the morning, among a party 70-90 strong, mostly women, "escorting the bride to meet her groom as local tradition dictates."

It was then that the American plane (or planes) arrived, ensuring that she would never say her vows. "They stopped in a narrow location for rest," said one witness about her house party, according to the BBC. "The plane came and bombed the area." The district governor, Haji Amishah Gul, told the British Times, "So far there are 27 people, including women and children, who have been buried. Another 10 have been wounded. The attack happened at 6.30AM. Just two of the dead are men, the rest are women and children. The bride is among the dead."

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:59 PM | Comments (10)

Obama's Dilemma

By: Bernard Chazelle

These have been tough weeks for McCain. The only bright spot in his campaign has been Phil Gramm's felicitous quip that Americans are a bunch a whiners. When asked what role Gramm might play in a McCain administration, the Maverick replied: "I think I'll make him US ambassador to Belarus, but I'm not sure the people of Minsk will want him." That was good! Let's see Obama cut out Jesse Jackson's nuts and name the capital of Belarus in the same fucking sentence! Five years in the Hanoi Hilton teaches you those skills. But outside this momentary triumph, it's been pretty bleak for McCain.

And so Obama seized the opportunity by planting his flag right in Center Court, the habitat of that electorally cherished breed known as The-Independent-Voter. A little flip-flop on FISA, a reversal on handguns, a pirouette on the death penalty, a U-turn on campaign financing, and voila, Independents-R-Us.

That was the plan, anyway. The reality is that during his little Mary Lou Retton routine Obama lost 14 points among independents. Oh, dear!

The Obama brand has always been that of a transformative politician. That's how he won the nomination. That he is no such thing is irrelevant. That's his brand. If he now turns around and says "I was just kidding," then people will ask Hillary back . He is stuck with that image. Kerry won the nomination by putting everyone to sleep and he lost the election by putting everyone to sleep. The guy was consistent! Obama can't say now, "I am just Kerry with a cool attitude."

But Obama's problem is that, like Kerry, he has no program attached to his name. Nothing. Clinton had welfare reform. Obama has nothing. He arrived at health care only after everyone else did.

Here's my advice to Obama. It's going to be either/or. Either you adopt a cause. Anything. Say, building an underground tunnel to China that goes through the center of the earth. Then stick to it and explain why it will solve every problem in America. Or say nothing. Don't reverse any of your stands (such as they are). Just smile beatifically and answer every simple question with "it's all about change and hope." If the question is more complex, like say "Should subprime lending affect leveraged Forex positions in non-dollar-denominated durable goods?" then answer: "Americans want change in their pockets and in their hearts: It is time to change hope for change into change for hope so that hoping change will change how hope for change changes change."

That's it. It worked for Reagan. It'll work for you. Just remember: vacuous people are not allowed to change their positions.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 05:55 PM | Comments (6)

July 12, 2008

"At 96, He Says He's Ready To Go"

While Garrison Keillor doesn't name him, his 96 year-old friend here is clearly Studs Terkel.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:13 PM | Comments (5)

Har Har Har

I try to avoid this kind of useless behavior, but sometimes I am overcome by weakness.

This is Christopher Hitchens being interviewed in Eric Alterman's 1992 book Sound and Fury. Hitchens is speaking about the 1980s phenomenon of conservative pundits who insisted they were liberals:

HITCHENS: The preface to this was always to be able to say, "Look, I've been a liberal all my life, it is in my roots, my fingertips and my hair, and it is in that capacity that I say I like the contras, or I like the MX, or what's so wrong with Ivan Boesky?" These are statements which would be perfectly trite on their own—they almost would have some distance to go before reaching trite—but because of the "I'm a liberal preface," they are invested with a kind of daring and appear brave.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:51 AM | Comments (3)

July 11, 2008

"Man of Constant Sorrow"

By: Bernard Chazelle

In the early 70s, my brother and I got a chance to tour briefly as road crew with a Boulder-based bluegrass band called Rufus Krisp, later renamed Gone Johnson. We were friends with the manager, an interesting guy who eventually left the music business to start the Coors Classic, the biggest bicycle race in the US. Anyway, I loved that music. Over the years, my taste for the genre has somewhat faded but I still cherish the sound of a good bluegrass band.

And so I remember the first time I heard "Union Station" and went: "Wow, this is the perfect bluegrass band! The singing and the playing of that ensemble are phenomenal. Everyone is a star. Alison Krauss is a fabulous vocalist and a wonderful fiddler.

Unfortunately, their songcraft is, in my humble opinion, not quite on a par with their musicianship. They truly shine when they stick to the standards. Like this one,

Vid synch a little off.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:39 PM | Comments (1)

Asked And Answered

Q: Do Bluggs Suck?

A: 98% of everything human beings create sucks. But we create so much stuff, the remaining excellent 2% is a gigantic amount, more than anyone could experience in a thousand lifetimes.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:51 PM | Comments (12)

"The United States Of America: We Can't Find Osama, But We Sure Blow The Fucking Shit Out Of Those Weddings"

July 11, 2008:

A US air strike killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to a wedding in Afghanistan, an official inquiry found today. The bride was among the dead.

May 24, 2004:

RAMADI, Iraq -- The videotape obtained Sunday by Associated Press Television News captures a wedding party that survivors say was later attacked by U.S. planes early Wednesday, killing up to 45 people...

Mourners say the bride and groom were killed.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:21 PM | Comments (15)

European Dumbassery

By: Bernard Chazelle

I. Italy wants to fingerprint all Gypsies. Why fingerprinting? Are yellow stars so out of fashion? The European Parliament has told the Italians to chill.

II. Each year, Pamplona, Spain, sets out to raise the world's average IQ. This popular Idiot-Culling festival is usually quite effective. This year alone,

A pack of fighting bulls gored a Spaniard, knocked an American unconscious and injured five other people Thursday in a dash through the streets of Pamplona to the city bullring, officials said.

Sadly, the bulls are killed at the end of each day. It's an "ancient tradition"; hence worth preserving. You know, like the Spanish Inquisition.

III. Just when you thought Sarkozy's presidency couldn't get worse, his wife, Carla, has a new pop album out. In it she sings:

"Still a child, despite my 40 years, despite my 30 lovers."

The 30 include Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, Laurent Fabius (a former French Prime minister), and perhaps even her husband Sarko. Curiously missing from the list is President Ahmadinejad. This has made Iran watchers around the world ponder the true meaning of Sarkozy's latest remark: "All options are on the table." Which options? Which table?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 02:06 PM | Comments (6)

Lindsay Beyerstein On Fired Alabama Blogger

Lindsay Beyerstein has written a great article for Raw Story about an editor at the University of Alabama publications office who was obviously fired for criticizing the Alabama Republican party—on his own time.

Alabama: America's Own Third World. Well, at least they didn't shoot him in the head.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:29 PM | Comments (15)

An Interesting Fact

I originally was planning to call this site "The World Outside," after Chapter 1 of Public Opinion by Walter Lippman.

However, I decided against it after a markedly cool reception to the idea from a friend of mine. Thank you, friend of mine; I really dodged a mind-numbingly pretentious bullet there. Even worse is I've never read any more of Public Opinion than that chapter title.

Other interesting facts are available here.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:08 AM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2008

Virginians Can Ask McCain Questions In Tele-Townhall Tonight At 7:00 PM

John McCain is having a townhall-by-telephone for Virginians tonight at 7:00 pm ET. Anyone with a Virginia area code—and maybe people with unidentified area codes—should be able to call in and possibly ask him a question. As far as I know questions aren't screened, and everyone has an equal chance of being called on.

Here's how it works:

Dial: 1-877-850-4146
Passcode: 84831

These are a few questions I'd try to ask if I were from Virginia:

1. Iraqi leaders are now saying they want a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops. If you become president, and the elected Iraqi government has decided it wants all US troops to leave by a certain date, will you commit here and now to following their wishes?

2. Phil Gramm, one of your top economic advisors and your close political friend, said yesterday we are having are “mental recession” and that we’ve become a “nation of whiners.” You've just said Mr. Gramm doesn't speak for you on this. If he doesn't speak for you on the economy, why is he one of your top economic advisors?

3. You've just said about Social Security that "it's terrible to ask people to pay in to a system that they won't receive benefits from." Do you know that, according to the Social Security Administration's projections, even if the trust fund is exhausted in forty years, recipients will STILL get higher benefits than retired people today get? [If YES: Then why are you claiming young people today will never get any benefits?] [If NO: Why are you talking about Social Security if you don't understand anything about how it works?]

4. You've said that you have a strategy to capture Osama bin Laden, but it's something that can only be done in secret by the president. Instead of waiting to be president yourself, why haven't you just told President Bush what your strategy is?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:21 PM | Comments (9)

New Tomdispatch


Reality Bites Back
Why the U.S. Won't Attack Iran

By Tom Engelhardt

It's been on the minds of antiwar activists and war critics since 2003. And little wonder. If you don't remember the pre-invasion of Iraq neocon quip, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran..." -- then take notice. Even before American troops entered Iraq, knocking off Iran was already "Regime Change: The Sequel." It was always on the Bush agenda and, for a faction of the administration led by Vice President Cheney, it evidently still is.

Add to that a series of provocative statements by President Bush, the Vice President, and other top U.S. officials and former officials. Take Cheney's daughter Elizabeth, who recently sent this verbal message to the Iranians: "[D]espite what you may be hearing from Congress, despite what you may be hearing from others in the administration who might be saying force isn't on the table... we're serious." Asked about an Israeli strike on Iran, she said: "I certainly don't think that we should do anything but support them." Similarly, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton suggested that the Bush administration might launch an Iranian air assault in its last, post-election weeks in office.

Consider as well the evident relish with which the President and other top administration officials regularly refuse to take "all options" off that proverbial "table" (at which no one bothers to sit down to talk). Throw into the mix semi-official threats, warnings, and hair-raising leaks from Israeli officials and intelligence types about Iran's progress in producing a nuclear weapon and what Israel might do about it. Then there were those recent reports on a "major" Israeli "military exercise" in the Mediterranean that seemed to prefigure a future air assault on Iran. ("Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program.")

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:09 AM | Comments (7)

July 09, 2008

Topics For Discussion

• While buying groceries at a chain supermarket recently, I was stopped by a store employee who thought I was shoplifting some grapes. (I wasn't, although being falsely accused makes me feel entitled to do so once in the future.) After we straightened it out, he apologized and said he'd caught five people already that day stealing food. He said, "It's the recession."

• If any political party in the United States wanted to succeed (ie, not the Democrats) they would focus on providing social services. Modern life is pretty damn complicated, and most people have essentially no one to turn to for advice who knows what they're talking about yet isn't trying to take their money. A political party could become very popular very fast if it deemphasized elections while making itself available to help people deal with the bureaucracy of 21st century America; ie, educating anyone who needs it on how to do their taxes, deal with their health insurance company, get the government benefits to which they're entitled, etc.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:01 PM | Comments (26)

HOLY CRAP: John McCain Is More Dangerously Stupid Than I Ever Imagined Possible

Below I defended John McCain for saying this on Monday:

MCCAIN: Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

I assumed he meant by this that the "disgrace" was young workers paying taxes for promised benefits that they may not receive. But no—as the people attacking him thought, he actually does mean the "disgrace" is retiree benefits being paid by the taxes of young workers. As Jason Lefkowitz points out, he said this yesterday on CNN:

ROBERTS: Senator, I'm sure you're also hearing from them about social security. Because you say that part of this plan, if you're going to balance the budget, is to reform social security. You've talked about the idea of private accounts, as President Bush tried to get through and couldn't. What else would you do to reform social security?...

MCCAIN: On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it.

In other words, McCain has NO UNDERSTANDING WHATSOEVER of how Social Security works and has worked for the past seventy years.

Jeebus Cripes Almighty, this country is in trouble.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:40 AM | Comments (22)

I Defend John McCain For The First And Hopefully Last Time

(UPDATE: This post is completely wrong; as Jason Lefkowitz points out below, it's clear McCain literally has no idea how Social Security works.)

Here's John McCain on Monday, rambling on about Social Security:

MCCAIN: Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.

Of course, Social Security has always worked by "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers." Thus, many people—including Dean Baker, Josh Marshall, Bob Somerby and Matthew Yglesias—are saying McCain was calling Social Security itself "a disgrace."

However, if you read the quote in context, it's clear McCain meant the disgrace isn't the basic mechanism of Social Security, but that today's young workers are paying taxes for which they may not get their promised benefits.

The rest of McCain's Social Security bloviations are an incredible farrago of deceit you could spend the 100 years unraveling. But on this minor point, he actually is being treated unfairly by people who've let the situation get the best of them, cognitively-speaking.

ALSO: I guarantee conservatives will obsess about McCain being horribly mistreated by liberals here, and it will become yet another example of how monsters perceive themselves as martyrs.

AND: This type of behavior on my part is how I keep winning.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 09:31 AM | Comments (3)

July 08, 2008

Health Care For America Now

Check out Health Care for America NOW, a new $40 million campaign being launched today. Member organizations include the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Moveon and lots of other people. They seem to understand that electing "nicer" people to office doesn't make much difference without a social movement pressuring them. If we ever get universal health care in this country, it will be because of something like this.

I would never deny the importance of the FISA stuff, etc. And it's possible to do lots of things at once. But health care should get BY FAR the most effort and attention from progressives, online and elsewhere.

You can join HCAN here. And this is their first ad:

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:37 PM | Comments (39)

Once Upon a Time

By: Bernard Chazelle

When Walter Cronkite asked Robert Kennedy how much money he had for his campaign,

Bobby attacked the networks, saying they were making enough profits to give all the candidates free air time.

On April 26, 1968, Kennedy was giving a campaign speech at the Indiana University Medical Center. One of the students in the audience shouted:

"Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you're proposing?"

Kennedy replied:

"From you! I look around this room and I don't see many black faces who will become doctors. Part of civilized society is to let people go to medical school who come from ghettos. I don't see many people coming here from the slums, or off of Indian reservations. You are the privileged ones here... It's the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam. You sit here as white medical students, while black people carry the burden of the fighting in Vietnam."

The students drowned him out with boos and hisses.

Earlier that year, the pollster Richard Scammon had warned Bobby that if he was perceived as an extremist he would get a "one-way ticket to oblivion." He didn't seem to care.

Kennedy won the Indiana primary.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:09 PM | Comments (11)

July 07, 2008

Meet The New Boss; Marginally Better Than The Old Boss?

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth has named Marcus Brauchli as the Post's new executive editor. Brachuli was the top editor at the Wall Street Journal until he was forced out by Rupert Murdoch.

Rather than hoping he'll be better than the outgoing editor, Leonard Downie, let's just pray he won't be even worse. Granted, that won't be a high hurdle. Here's Downie in an online chat looking back at his time at the Post:

Chicago: Hey Len, What is your opinion of Katherine Graham's quote: "The press these days should be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist."

Leonard Downie Jr.: It's timeless wisdom. She said that many years ago, and it was true then and it's true now. We keep that responsibility in mind every day.

Of course, the title of this post is wrong. Brauchli isn't the "boss" in this situation. The boss is Katharine Weymouth, and behind her, the stock market.

(via via)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 06:40 PM | Comments (5)


By: Bernard Chazelle

In The Nation, Robert Dreyfuss lays out Obama's neocon credentials. They are impressive.

The US has no military enemy: only a ragtag band of losers hiding in the caves of Baluchistan. Consequently,

Obama's foreign policy team uniformly dismisses the idea that the Pentagon's bloated budget can be cut, even though, not counting spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, it has nearly doubled since 2000 and is roughly equal to the military spending of all other countries combined.

Echoing Richard Perle,

Obama promises to increase Pentagon spending, boost the size of the Army and Marines, bolster the Special Forces, expand intelligence agencies and maintain the hundreds of US military bases that dot the globe.

Wars don't fight themselves, you know. They make heavy demands on nations: they demand lies, deception, greed, blood lust, paranoia, and, most important, cannon fodder. Wars might take us out of our economic doldrums. Did you know that French unemployment went down by 1.7 million in WWI? Yep, that's how many of the unemployed were killed on the battlefield.

The US celebrated its unipolar 15-minutes by making peace with Russia... Oops, I mean, by

encircling Russia with hostile military forces, along the way breaking our promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO to Russia's borders.

Obama has supported the addition of 65,000 troops to the Army and 27,000 to the Marines. He backed the latest round of NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe, and according to Denis McDonough, his top adviser on foreign policy, he supports granting Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia; the latter, especially, is considered deeply threatening by the Russian leadership.

Obama's eastern push is to keep Russia tied on its western front and thus out of Central Asia.

Just asking, how would we react if China created a military alliance with Canada and Mexico?

This no doubt will delight Obama fans everywhere:

his [Obama's] advisers are pushing him to ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in an Obama administration.

Obama wants to support opposition parties in countries we don't like. Note that such an activity in the US would be illegal. But when we do it to others, it's OK.

Even in more resistant countries, such as Egypt and Russia, the United States can still support dissidents and take other pro-democracy steps, says [an advisor].
Obama does propose a sweeping nation-building and democracy-promotion program, including strengthening the controversial National Endowment for Democracy.

A personal anecdote: When Mitterrand became France's president in 1981, the presence of Communists in his Cabinet got the US worried. Pronto, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was tasked with funding UNI, a right-wing xenophobic student movement in France close to Le Pen. (I battled those vicious thugs when I was a student in Paris in the 70s -- most of them racist rich kids too dumb to get into the top schools. Assas, their flagship campus, was full of them -- pun intended.)

Senator Obama, how would you like it if the French government sponsored democracy in America by funding David Duke! Because that's exactly what the NED was doing at the time (among other, more nefarious activities).

Meanwhile the hegemonic temptation beckons still:

Obama proclaimed in an April 2007 address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "We must lead the world."

How about starting by leading, say, the United States? Or even make that New Orleans. How about leading the Lower Ninth Ward? Yeah, let's try the Ninth Ward, first, and see if we can pull that off, OK? Because I ain't convinced we can.

[Obama] pledges to "integrate civilian and military capabilities to promote global democracy and development,"

Ask any NGO. They'll tell you that a necessary condition for success is strict independence from any military organization. Democracy at the point of a bayonet. Why abandon a successful formula?

Obama has pledged to beef up the US presence in Afghanistan, promising to add at least two combat brigades to the US-NATO force there.

Senator Obama, between two flip-flops, perhaps you'll care to tell us what we're doing in Afghanistan, because if you won't, I will. We're not there to fight terrorism. We're there for one reason and one reason only: to keep China at bay and Russia in its box. If there is any other reason, I hope you'll tell us.

You said you'd withdraw from Iraq. I don't believe a word of it. Fine, but do you?

Some of his Iraq advisers, such as Colin Kahl of the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think tank, are on record suggesting that a force of 60,000 to 80,000 might remain [in Iraq] for at least several years.

Bush wants to vaporize the ayatollahs.
Obama wants to talk to the ayatollahs. And then vaporize them.

"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power... everything,"

For or against war crimes? Senator Obama is for. But there is a strict condition attached. They have to be committed by us or our closest friends.

... reiterated Obama's support for the overwhelmingly disproportionate Israeli response to Hezbollah's cross-border raid in the summer of 2006, when Israeli bombing of Lebanon killed up to 1,000 civilians.

Granted, an AIPAC speech rarely makes one's inner Mother Teresa come out, but do we need to hear about birth pangs from you, too?

On the subject of the Middle East, I note that Obama had one advisor who actually knew what he was talking about: Robert Malley. He was disposed of after talking to Hamas (something which, of course, Israel does on a daily basis).

Dreyfuss brings up -- and partly refutes -- the soft-power canard.

"It could be a game-changer," says Derek Chollet, who advised John Edwards on foreign policy. "Obama will have a lot in the bank, and perhaps the biggest challenge will be managing the expectations that his election would bring about." Joseph Nye [says] "I think Barack Obama would do wonders for America's soft power."

If by soft power one means getting smiles from Sarkozy and Brown and Fukuda, then yes he will get lots of that. He might even be able to show his face in a European street without being heckled. If that's the ultimate goal, then yes Obama will be a "game changer."

But what Nye is missing is that 99% of the humans who hate the US government do so not on the basis of smiles and words, but facts. Hard facts like having your child amputated because a daisy-cutter fell on her school "by mistake" (it's always by mistake). Or having a cousin tortured by a death squad financed by a "democracy promotion" outfit, like the NED. Or having your sister sent into prostitution because she's an Iraqi refugee in Syria and has to feed her children. Or being a destitute mother because your husband is rotting in a rendition cell somewhere for no reason. Or being a Malawian farmer driven out of business because US food aid comes in the form of American corn and not cash. And let's not talk about US biofuel subsidies, responsible, according to the IMF, for half of the increase in crop food prices worldwide.

Obama seems cool and a nice guy. But will hipness and congeniality bring a limb back, or make torture pain go away, or humiliation vanish, or families reunite, or farmers get back to work, or children eat before they go to school? If so, I just can't wait.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:22 PM | Comments (32)

The Uprising

I highly recommend David Sirota's new book The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. Many progressive political books, and just about all conservative political books, are crap and not worth the paper they're printed on. That's because politics is as simple as tic tac toe, and there's never anything new to say about it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1813,

To me then it appears that there have been differences of opinion, and party differences, from the establishment of governments to the present day, and on the same question which now divides our country, that these will continue through all future times...everyone takes his side in favor of the many, or of the few…nothing new can be added by you or me to what has been said by others, and will be said in every age.

But what can be done is serious, high quality reporting on what exactly is happening in the times we're living in. Almost no one ever tries this because it's hard work. But Sirota does in The Uprising—it's full of useful and encouraging information about what regular people are doing all over the country to deal with the extremely serious problems we face.

This week Sirota is at TPM Cafe to talk about it. Check it out.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 01:01 PM | Comments (1)

New Tomdispatch


The Iraqi Oil Ministry's New Fave Five
All the Oil News That's Fit to Print (Attn: The New York Times)
By Nick Turse

On June 19th, the New York Times broke the story in an article headlined "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back: Rare No-Bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards." Finally, after a long five years-plus, there was proof that the occupation of Iraq really did have something or other to do with oil. Quoting unnamed Iraqi Oil Ministry bureaucrats, oil company officials, and an anonymous American diplomat, Andrew Kramer of the Times wrote: "Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP… along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields."

The news caused a minor stir, as other newspapers picked up and advanced the story and the mainstream media, only a few years late, began to seriously consider the significance of oil to the occupation of Iraq.

As always happens when, for whatever reason, you come late to a major story and find yourself playing catch-up on the run, there are a few corrections and blind spots in the current coverage that might be worth addressing before another five years pass. In the spirit of collegiality, I offer the following leads for the mainstream media to consider as they change gears from no-comment to hot-pursuit when it comes to the story of Iraq's most sought after commodity. I'm talking, of course, about that "sea of oil" on which, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pointed out way back in May 2003, the month after Baghdad fell, Iraq "floats."

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2008

While Your Liberal Gently Weeps

By: Bernard Chazelle

Obama was wrong to cave on FISA. Telcoms should be punished for surrendering to Bush after he put a gun to their heads. Funny, though, to hear it from liberals who surrendered to Bush after no one ever put a gun to their heads...

But if privacy from Big Brother is a big deal, why the deafening silence over this?

There you have a 3-way battle between Google, Viacom, and "We the people." Guess which side American justice is on. A federal judge has ordered 82 million Americans to strip naked so that the two corporate beasts can better slug it out. To add insult to injury, the judge made a major "concession." He agreed that Google could retain its proprietary code. How thoughtful of him. "And you, the 82 million, shut up and strip!"

Why isn't there a consumer movement to boycott Viacom? Why isn't there a consumer movement, period?

PS: Google, by the way, is just like Viacom: only more evil and overrated.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:22 PM | Comments (28)

July 05, 2008

Dark Eyes

By: Bernard Chazelle

Why I am happy to belong to the human race.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:17 PM | Comments (10)

US Constitution: Part II -- The "Don't Step in It" Session

By: Bernard Chazelle

On this we all agree, liberty lovers around the world worship the US Constitution as others do the Holy Bible or the Holy Koran or the Holy "Our Kampf."

Which makes perfect sense. After all, the US Constitution not only condoned slavery but actually promoted it.

What sort of twisted liberty lover would not worship a document that does not even wait until Article II to declare its eternal devotion to slavery. In Articulo Numero Uno, we learn that blacks are worth 3/5 of a human being (Sec.2) and that Congress may not outlaw the slave trade (Sec.9).

On the liberty front, I'd say we're off to a flying start.

It gets better. In Article 4 (Sec.2), we're told that slaves who've escaped to another state must be returned to their owners.

Ah, the sweet smell of freedom!

Article 5 does not specify when and where white men could rape female slaves. But that's because the US Constitution is not about sex, or for that matter liberty, but about property. When Madison talked about protecting minority rights against the tyranny of the majority, rest assured he didn't have black women in mind: he had Bill Gates in mind. The "opulent minority" needed protection from the starving masses and excessive taxation.

Then you have the bizarro notion of an Electoral College, which, when the Internets were a bunch of horses running around, may have made some sense. Well, of course, a mismatch with the popular vote will never happen, so why worry?

Jury duty? The Founders' gift to Hollywood! Imported to the US from England, which had imported it from France, which had imported it from Rome, which had imported it from Athens. I once had a really bright student, Jared Kramer, who did a wonderful senior thesis with me -- he was Princeton valedictorian -- but disappointed me greatly by rejecting my advice to be a scientist and instead becoming a corporate lawyer (he was president of Harvard Law Review just a few years after Obama). When the Enron trial was going on, I asked him: "Jared, how in the world can a jury follow these complex proceedings?" His reply: "They can't." So they declare guilt about something of which they don't have a clue. Cool.

The Constitution tells you what government can do. The Bill of Rights tells you what it cannot. It's got a few gems, too.

The 3rd Amendment talks about quartering troops. Not sure what that means. I guess you can't kidnap a US soldier and quarter him by attaching 4 horses to his limbs. Or at least you cannot do it in your own house. Anyway, I'm glad it's there.

The 2nd Amendment is a treat. It's all about commas. Depending on your understanding of 18th-century punctuation, it means that you can have guns or that you can't. Old Church Slavonic at its best!

Amending the Constitution is virtually impossible, unless it's about drinking beer. Then you can do it twice within 14 years.

To be fair, the Constitution was amended to tell us that the bits about slavery were intended as a joke: an 80-year joke, mind you. So, the US Constitution is a bit like a house with dog waste all over the place. Do you clean up the mess? Of course, not. It's not just crap, it's historic crap. So, instead, you post signs all over the house with the words "Don't Step in It." And you think to yourself, What a beautiful house!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:01 PM | Comments (24)

July 04, 2008

US Constitution: Part I

By: Bernard Chazelle

Since I've never taken Constitutional Law, since I slept through the only law class I took in college, and since I don't understand why no one has ever bothered to translate the Bill of Rights into English (from the original Old Church Slavonic), I feel uniquely qualified to pontificate about the Great American Bible, also known as The US Constitution.

I'll begin with the Supreme Court. I propose the following Amendment:

Atr shduwerh dofje andjfdoow Sjdjeoe Ojdjowhfeo wsis sodwdol iiiiiii rta.

Or, if your Old Church Slavonic is a bit rusty,

All Supreme Court decisions shall require a supermajority of at least 7 votes.

Explanation: When lower courts are stumped, they turn to the experts, the Supreme Court. A 5-4 decision means that the experts don't have a friggin' clue. They might as well decide by tossing a coin or checking if Scalia's dog wags his tail clockwise or counterclockwise. A 5-4 decision also means that life-or-death decisions are left in the hands of a senior citizen, usually named Kennedy, who gets to play "Master of the Universe" between long naps.

Last time a country submitted itself to the whims of unelected, sullen-looking fogies in drab outfits, we called it the Soviet Union.

Decisions on abortion, gun control, and the death penalty should be left to, wait, how do we say it in Old Church Slavonic... oh yes, "We, the People."

Happy 4th!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 05:53 PM | Comments (27)

July 03, 2008

Iran Air Flight 655 Shot Down By America 20 Years Ago Today

Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down over the Straight of Hormuz by the USS Vincennes 20 years ago today on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 people aboard, including 66 children.

When asked about the incident soon afterward, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush stated, "I'll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."

While the US officially blames Libya for the subsequent bombing of Pan Am 103 in December, 1988, the preponderance of evidence suggests it was carried out by Iran in revenge for Flight 655.

In a strange series of events, the bombing of Pam Am 103 soon led to the death of my high school biology lab partner as well as three other teenagers.

Thanks, human propensity for mindless violence.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:58 PM | Comments (5)

What Bin Laden Wants, Bin Laden Gets

By: Bernard Chazelle

On October 14, 2001, Roger Diwan, a managing director of the Petroleum Finance Company, cited this quote from bin Laden in a Times interview:

[Bin Laden] said at one point that he wants oil to be $144 a barrel'' -- about six times what it sells for now.

In today's news:

Oil prices raced above $145 a barrel for the first time.

h/t Jerome a P.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:50 PM | Comments (8)

Barry Crimmins' Personal Revenge

Recently the Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment for the rape of children is unconstitutional. Barack Obama immediately said he disagreed with the decision.

Barry Crimmins explains his perspective here:

Does it really matter? The decision has been made and won't soon be reversed and so Obama's views don't particularly matter. Even if the Supremes had ruled the other way, the worst case scenario would only involve the execution of some vicious rapists of children, right? No one else would be affected. No one, that is, except for the raped children and they'd be all for the state-sponsored elimination of these human jackals, wouldn't they?

I can't speak on this issue as a raped child. I can only speak as an adult who was raped as a child and I oppose capital punishment for those who rape children. I was much younger than 12 when I was assaulted so in theory, my rapist could have been sent to the death chamber by Sen. Obama's rules...

Pronouncements of lynch mobsters notwithstanding, I wouldn't have wanted my rapist put out of his own misery and into mine. I started life without blood on my hands and I aim to keep it that way. Had the man who raped me on numerous occasions not died in prison while serving his third term for sexually abusing very young boys, I might have gone to see him. My personal revenge would have been to show him that I did not become what I resisted, that I hadn't grown into a cruel and heartless man.

The rest.

Thank you, Barry Crimmins. (And thank you, internet, for allowing people to communicate with each other about things that matter.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:40 PM | Comments (8)

July 02, 2008

Savage Mules

As of 5 pm ET, Dennis Perrin's new book Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War is #8 on Amazon's political bestseller list. This is a pretty amazing performance, given that all the competition is by people with prominent media perches.

And since the book is all about mindlessly going along with the herd, this is a perfect moment to buy it.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:43 PM | Comments (5)


By: Donald Johnson

There needs to be a term for what the New York Times does in their Monday editorial, "Israel's Diplomatic Offensive." Perhaps it should be "Arguing to Lose."

When you are ATL, you start by granting every premise of the people with whom you're arguing. In this case, the NYT begins like this:

Few countries can afford the luxury of limiting their diplomacy to friendly countries and peace-loving parties. National security often requires negotiating with dangerous enemies.

That sets the tone. By implication, Israel is peace-loving and its enemies are dangerous, whereas Israel is not dangerous and its enemies are not peace-loving. Of course, reality demonstrates both sides are dangerous, and neither is particularly peace-loving. Israel's love of peace has led it to steal Palestinian land and then negotiate over how much it can keep. Like many conquerors, they would love it if the conquered's response were peaceful.

A little further on, there's this:

There are clear risks. Hamas may not respect or enforce the cease-fire; there have been almost daily violations.

This suggests that Israel is doing its best to abide by the ceasefire, but Palestinian terrorists just keep violating it. But that's at best a half-truth. As always, the media rule seems to be this: a truce which is holding is one where all the violence comes from the Israeli side. A truce is violated when Palestinians are violent.

If one were unfamiliar with NYT editorials, it would be remarkable to see alleged liberals arguing for peace by repeating the kind of one-sided nonsense one normally would associate with warmongers, Presidential candidates, and government spokesmen. Of course, anyone familiar with NYT editorial won't find it remarkable at all. But this still leaves the question: why is the NYT always ATL?

I don't know what goes on in their heads, but they seem to have a policy of always portraying "the West" in general as having good intentions, though of course there may be individual leaders who fall short of our usual high standards of decency. (They love that term "the West", though it does not appear in this particular piece.) Arguing to win would require them to acknowledge "the West" not only isn't always in the right, but quite often is in the wrong. If they have to chose between that and losing the argument, they'll chose the latter every time. So this is part of the usual pattern. Maybe it is all quite consciously done, or maybe it is unconscious bias or some mixture of the two.

In this case one can be more specific about the pattern. The "peace process" with Israel/Palestine has a way of turning into another war, and so what I think the NYT is doing is establishing the "correct" narrative if Israel invades Gaza again. Just as they did with the 2000 intifada, they are going to give us a storyline where the Israelis have done everything they could for peace and yet those crazy Arabs just can't get their act together. It's important to omit facts as needed, to get the picture firmly planted in everyone's head, before the ratio of dead Palestinians to dead Israelis goes even higher. Similarly, unless I've missed it, the NYT never refers to the evidence that the fighting between Hamas and Fatah was instigated by the US, even though it's easily available in Vanity Fair and other places. Rather, the NYT storyline is that Hamas was solely responsible, with no complicating factors.

So maybe this is wrong, and the correct term for what the NYT is actually up to here isn't ATL. What they're doing is writing morality plays where the good guys (the West) try to bring peace, but are hobbled both by the weakness of their non-Western allies and the perfidy of their non-Western enemies. ATL is just a byproduct of the main process of generating the morality play via deception, like CO2 is a byproduct of the main process of generating energy via burning gas.

—Donald Johnson

Posted at 04:36 PM | Comments (13)

New Tomdispatch


How Ignorant Are We?
The Voters Choose… but on the Basis of What?

By Rick Shenkman

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." -- Thomas Jefferson

Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid, it would seem, when we come across headlines like this: "Homer Simpson, Yes -- 1st Amendment 'Doh,' Survey Finds" (Associated Press 3/1/06).

"About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family, according to a survey.

"The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms."

But what does it mean exactly to say that American voters are stupid? About this there is unfortunately no consensus. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who confessed not knowing how to define pornography, we are apt simply to throw up our hands in frustration and say: We know it when we see it. But unless we attempt a definition of some sort, we risk incoherence, dooming our investigation of stupidity from the outset. Stupidity cannot mean, as Humpty Dumpty would have it, whatever we say it means.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:21 PM | Comments (10)

July 01, 2008

Clay Felker, RIP

By: Michael Gerber

Legendary editor Clay Felker has died at 82; here's the NYT obit.

Along with his one-time Esquire-mate Harold Hayes, Felker has always been a bit of a hero of mine. His New York continued in the 70s what Hayes had demonstrated in the 60s: the vision of a magazine as a beautiful, lively, important thing. "Beautiful" because it was written and designed passionately, by artists like Tom Wolfe and Milton Glaser. "Lively" because it was fully integrated into the culture, not apart from it, and examined it all. (In a magazine like Hayes Esquire or Felker's New York, nothing was too small that it did not deserve a bit of intelligence to illuminate it; nor too big that it could escape a bit of puncturing wit.) "Important" because it had some power of its own.

The great magazines of the 60s and 70s--Esquire, New York, Rolling Stone, National Lampoon--these were the last batch that introduced ideas into the culture in the way only TV and movies do today. Not coincidentially, Felker's generation was the last group of really top-flight creative people to enter the business, and I would guess that was because they grew up before TV began rewiring our brains. There is something about having to come up with the images on your own that gives print and radio a different kind of imaginative rigor, and all our misplaced populism about TV and movies (really a sort of wishful present-ism) doesn't change that.

In Felker's magazines there was a willingness to address any topic, in any way that suited it best. This is a function of intellectual confidence, in themselves and their product and above all their readers, that editors simply don't show anymore. (I suspect they could have it, in the right environment; my friend Ed Park did some great editing at The Believer.) Heading down the chain of command to artists and writers, the uncertainty only increases--a magazine's content is only as audacious as the editors controlling it.

And so people with the capacity of a Felker or Glaser or Wolfe don't go into magazines today, because what a magazine is, and what it is for, has devolved into something unworthy of them. With very few exceptions, the American magazine business can be seen as an arm of advertising, and shares with advertising all of its flaws: its lack of substance; its obsession with surface; its confusion of currency with importance; its manipulative aspect; and above all its tendency to repeat itself. But unlike advertising, there is no driving force behind the modern magazine. In our time, selling something is an utterly elemental pursuit; a magazine is simply a vehicle, one among many, no more beautiful or necessary than a billboard.

Most really intelligent people aren't interested in, say, Justin Timberlake; and those really intelligent people who must force themselves to keep up with such things are, in my experience, gloomy tending toward miserable. Successful or not, they live in the chilly shadow of their own wasted potential. You cannot work in American magazines without ceding some portion of your brain over to topics that really only enthrall 13-year-olds, and though the same thing is true to a certain extent in TV and movies, the brute amount of money flowing through those industries means that a lot of offbeat and interesting stuff happens in spite of itself. Not so with magazines.

Felker said, "I believe that print — now that broadcast has become the dominant mass media — has to be aimed at educated, affluent people.” This is undoubtedly correct, on both the ad and edit sides, and grows more so by the day. As print retreats, its few gestures towards mass appeal are merely cross-promoting truly popular forms like TV or movies. But it is a shame; there are certain things that print can do better than other media, and need to do if we're going to have a well-functioning country. The newspaper experience can be replicated via internet; for the moment magazines are still trapped on paper. Killed by the old technology, not yet saved by the new one, those few magazines that still insist on their own territory--that demand the reader come into their sphere, not simply consume more facts about famous strangers in a slightly different way--are more irrelevant than ever.

Felker's New York probably hastened that slide, in that what it spawned wasn't a new generation of Glasers and Wolfes, but a puffy lifestyle magazine for every mid-sized city. Art is difficult, and the gap between success and failure large and obvious. Commerce is a much more predictable transaction; and so without someone at the top who is completely committed by the idea of creating a new world of the mind via ink on paper, a magazine inevitably declines into just another way to make a buck, and a not very efficient one at that.

—Michael Gerber

Posted at 03:09 PM | Comments (11)

The Good News

With all the horrible news of the past decade, it's easy to miss how much better some parts of the world have gotten. Certainly there's much better and more interesting information available than ever before. For instance, these two Big Con posts wouldn't just have been hard to get a hold of pre-internet; they never would have been written, because there would have been no place to publish them.

• Rick Perlstein explains how the South's bizness "conservatism" contributed to current water shortages in Georgia: "Atlanta: Finishing What General Sherman Started"

All told over the entire United States, the Army Corps of Engineers built and runs 464 lakes in 43 states, one of them Atlanta's life-giving Lake Lanier; but the notion of the federal government actually coordinating all these resources for the common good would just be too, too un-American to contemplate. Instead, this civil war has ratcheted up to Israel-Palestine levels. "In March, U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kepthorne finally put the bickering governors in a collective time-out after they missed a deadline to come up with a tri-state agreement."

• Sara Robinson examines the tremendous challenge we face due to basic human craziness: "Why The Right Isn't Future-Ready"

According to Dr. Robert Altemeyer and other social psychologists who study authoritarian behavior, roughly a quarter of Americans organize their lives around authoritarian thought patterns. That's a lot of potential resistance to change. But at this moment in history — when we are faced with the epic task of renewing America and re-structuring the very economic and technological foundations of our civilization, both of which will require rapid, large-scale change efforts — we need to take those people's deep suspicion of democratic process and knee-jerk resistance to change into serious account. If we're not factoring their inevitable fear and fury into our strategic plans, we will very likely doom ourselves to failure. If these people get frightened enough, they can make the changes we seek impossible.

I accept that "lots of great blog posts" doesn't necessarily balance out war, famine, pestilence, etc. But I'm trying to look on the bright side.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 02:30 PM | Comments (14)